“I’m confused! I don’t even understand anything anymore.”
Does this statement or something similar run through your mind always? Know that you’re not alone. Since confusion is the norm today in times of increasing complexity, then navigating complexity becomes a necessity.
Navigating complexity is required when there are diverse elements that are independent yet interconnected in variational structures, and when emergence produces unintended outcomes. Complexity can occur in the external environment of an individual, the internal structure, or both.
However, there is a difference between complexity and complicated. Complicated may be in form of 1+1 = 2, while complexity revolves around 1+1 =3. Complexity here definitely feels like a hard nut to crack, but with the personal practices below, you should be able to navigate complexity seamlessly.
Personal Practices for Navigating Complexity
- Utilizing active listening – Being open to listening to new voices and opinions is a great way to navigate complexity. During the process of active listening, you compare and contrast different voices and you get to learn newer, easier, (and probably faster) ways of doing and handling things. Know that listening is not just something that happens, it is an active process where an intentional decision is made. Active listening requires patience. As an active listener, allow yourself to explore your thoughts and feelings and choose what works best for you.
- Accept the complexity – Do not live in denial about your complexity. Understand that it is okay for you to be confused when complexity sets in. There are few absolutes and many relatives in modern organizational life. It is not a question of hard or soft data, but of both. It’s not about a temporary period or a permanent period, but about both. It’s not a case of stick or carrot, but of both. It is not a choice between productivity and creativity, but rather between the two. Complexity can set in, but once you accept it, the path will be easier to navigate.
- Be ready to change your point of view – Being open-minded is good behaviour in complex situations because you are always ready to accept new situations and opposing points of view and you can immediately adjust accordingly.
- Create and embrace simplicity – Know that you do not have the ability and resources to completely solve a problem and you cannot do more than your strength can carry. Don’t outweigh and overwork yourself by trying to always do everything alone. Be open to taking your tasks one step at a time and also use the simplest methods.
- Build on open foundations – You are probably not the first person to work on the task that is causing your complexity. Feel free to read books, make research, find archetypes, and build on the derived and accumulated knowledge. Embrace quality shortcuts and easy work.
- Seek diversity and consult professionals: High complexity conditions are too elaborate for one head and mind. Feel free to seek professional consultations and diversify from your usual procedure and watch as the complicated situation carefully untangles.
- Reduce analysis rate and start acting: Don’t dwell too much on “whys” and “hows”. Sometimes, when you can’t find a headway from your analysis, things tend to become more complex and you just freeze without doing anything. But when you start acting, you are prone to getting a proper headway and further analysis can be built on previous actions.
Take a simple metaphor from the write-up above as a teenage sales trainee in a clothing store. There’s a huge discount sale of hand gloves going on in the store and each pair of gloves were only tied together – no boxes or packages, just each pair tied together and put into a huge carton. This is what happens: by the end of the day, some of the gloves are no longer pairs of gloves, others still are, and they are all tangled up in one big huddle of gloves. They are tied together in what seems like one big knot, but they really are hundreds of small knots.
The option is not to “figure out” the knot structure before you begin. It is obviously not feasible. So you start untying one knot at a time, and what appears to be no structure at all will gradually emerge as a pattern, mostly as separate chunks of interconnected knots. The rest is routine after that. Navigating complexity frequently operates in the same manner. You can’t think your way through it; you have to act your way through it, knot by knot.
The best way to handle complexity depends on the circumstances and scenario, and these six ways to navigate complexity are meant to be starting points.
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